The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has branded the decision of an Egyptian court to free photojournalist Shawkan as "long overdue". Mahmoud Abou Zeid, better known as Shawkan, winner of the UNESCO/Guillermo-Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2018, had faced the death penalty, but was sentenced on Saturday 8th September to 5 years in prison. Having already served that time since his arrest in 2013 he is now to be freed.
The IFJ welcomed Shawkan's imminent return to his family and friends but condemned his long imprisonment simply for working as a journalist.
Shawkan was arrested in Cairo on 14 August 2013 while covering a police crackdown on protesters in Rabaa Square, also known as the Rabaa Massacre.
The freelance journalist was allegedly charged with multiple offences including “damaging national unity”, “terrorizing citizens” and “attempted murder of police officers”.Before the verdict on 8 September, it has been reported that Shawkan, against whom no evidence of the charges of wrongdoing has never been produced, suffered from chronic anemia and hepatitis C and from mistreatment by Egyptian officials.
The IFJ considers Shawkan’s condemnation unfair and a heavy price to pay for just doing his job.
In March this year, IFJ president Philippe Leruth wrote a letter to Egypt President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, in which he expressed grave concerns over Shawkan and other journalists’ detention and called on the Egyptian authorities to stop arresting and intimidating journalists. The day before the verdict, the IFJ renewed its call to free Shawkan in the name of press freedom.
IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger said:
“Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid ‘Shawkan’ will soon be free. It is long overdue - five years late. The IFJ is delighted about his imminent release, but does not forget the five years he served in prison for doing his job as a journalist: to inform his fellow citizens. This judgement is a threatening message for journalists working in Egypt and therefore, an attack on press freedom”.
The IFJ is calling on the Egyptian authorities to release all the remaining journalists in jail including Mahmoud Hussain and Ismael Iskandarani.